First national report provides insights into the safety of children in care

Content warning: This media release contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about child abuse and neglect.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released its first report on the safety of children in care in Australia throughout the 2020–21 period.

Children may be placed in the care of the state or territory when they are unable to safely remain at home because they have been, or are at risk of being, abused or otherwise harmed, or because their parents are unable to provide adequate care or protection.

This may include placement in out-of-home care (for example, foster care, relative/kin care, or residential care), on third party parental responsibility orders, or on other court orders that transfer parental responsibility for the child. This report presents information on children abused while in care.

The report, Safety of children in care 2020–21, presents data from a new national data collection which was established in response to Recommendation 12.2 from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

‘Although the Royal Commission had a specific focus on sexual abuse, the national data collection also includes physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. Work is ongoing to improve and expand the collection and reporting of these data,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dinesh Indraharan.

In 2020–21, 1,442 children were the subject of a substantiation of abuse in care. This may include historical cases where the abuse occurred before 1 July 2020.

Abuse in care includes instances where the person held responsible was the approved carer, another person living in the household or care facility, or an employee of the responsible care service or government department. It also includes instances where a carer, or employee of a care service or department, failed to protect the child from abuse by a person not living in the household.

Among these children, 4 in 10 (41%) were aged 10–14 at the time of substantiation, 27% were aged 5–9, 22% aged 15 and over, and just over half were girls (54%). Almost half (46%) were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, reflecting the over-representation of Indigenous children in care.

Physical abuse was the most common type of abuse (32%), followed by emotional abuse (28%), sexual abuse (21%), and neglect (19%).

The AIHW acknowledges the serious impact that child abuse can have on those affected.

‘The effects of these experiences can last a lifetime and can affect future generations. By bringing together the available data in conjunction with the Commonwealth and states and territories, we hope to strengthen the evidence and build a more coherent picture of abuse in care in Australia,’ Mr. Indraharan said.

In future years, data on safety in care will be reported in the AIHW’s annual child protection report. Child protection Australia 2020–21 is scheduled for release in 2022.

Help and support

If you believe a child is in immediate danger or in a life-threatening situation, call 000.

For non-emergency situations that still require a timely response, contact your local police station or call 131 444.

If you wish to report a child protection matter, directly contact the agency responsible for child protection in your state or territory:

You can report child online sexual exploitation via the ‘Report Abuse’ Button on the ACCCE ( or ThinkUKnow ( websites.

Counselling and support services

Kids Helpline | 24/7 counselling for 5-25 year olds | 1800 55 1800 or

Lifeline | 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention | 13 11 14 or

1800RESPECT | 24/7 support for sexual assault or domestic/family violence | 1800 737 732 or

MensLine Australia | 24/7 counselling for men | 1300 78 99 78 or

Blue Knot Helpline and Redress Support Services | provides trauma counselling, information and referral to adults who have experienced complex trauma, commonly from childhood | Mon-Sun 9-5 EST | 1300 657 380 or

Media enquiries: [email protected]

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